Tunisia Democratically Repeals Arab Spring Constitution, Solidifies One Party Rule
Yesterday, Tunisia democratically passed a new constitution, repealing the one crafted by a free parliament in 2014 with separation of powers, freedom of speech, and other western notions of liberty. The new constitution, written in a mere two weeks, gives near complete power to the popularly elected President Saied. Under this new constitution, he can now appoint judges and propose laws. On the other hand, Parliament is demoted to a group of powerless, serving at the behest and will of Mr. Kais Saied.
All the Tunisian media outlets were supportive, giving limited airtime to opposition, even as most opposing parties urged abstaining from the election in protest. Of course, those same media outlets have become much more restrictive over the past year as Saied has also cracked down on independent journalism.
Yet Tunisian media were never supportive of the Arab Spring in 2011. Almost all its support came through American-based social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Instructively, there was no home-grown media opposition, for example, such as during the American Revolution—where the free press was actively engaged in the creation of the nation. Instead the Tunisians, and the rest of the protestors in the Arab Spring, used media platforms which were highly transient, decontextualized and emotionally-charged. There was little home-grown press that could mirror the Western political newspaper tradition. Even with western media at their fingertips, the opposition parties in Tunisia were muted. An observer gets the idea that the cries of boycotting the election were less a decisive act of strength and more convulsions of a political system with few options, little hope, and no popular support.
Saied is not as popular as he was a year ago, and he garnered only thirty percent turnout for the referendum, though 80% of eligible voters were registered. Even still, the New York Times quotes only one yes voter, and his answer is remarkably no-nonsense: “What is happening today, I call it a new era, in a good sense. It can’t be worse than it was over the last decade. A boat needs one captain…Personally, I need one captain.”
Almost every report on the ground shows widespread support from normal citizens. Whilst the BBC and New York Times quote American-based opposition and highly politicized protestors (such as sacked judges), whenever they interview regular citizens, the answers are the same.
“He’s a good person. I have faith in him. He does not do bad things. He does not steal or anything. I hope all people are like him. He’s working to improve the situation, he’s purging the state. I will go and vote yes in the referendum so that the country moves forward. This is for the future of our kids.” A another exclaims, “I will vote yes, yes, yes. The president will improve our conditions, I pin high hopes on Kais Saied.”
The two articles are a very small sample size, but in some ways, that proves the point. There are no loud demonstrations, no uprisings, and no clamoring to the polls as the means to defend natural rights to be reported. The people are tired of protest, they are tired of inflation, they are tired of corruption and worsening conditions for their nation. Not only that, but the Tunisians have no concept of ordered liberty, due process, or the rights of man. Democratic norms and expectations were shipped to them over social media, and somehow America backed and supported it as some sort of second 1989.
The Arab Spring’s only success is now dead in the water, and what was its final blow? Democracy.
It was democracy that in fact birthed the Arab Spring, wherein thousands of Arab men, women, and children perished in the violent unrest. Their resistance against oppressive secular dictators not only failed in almost every instance, it birthed no less than four civil wars in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya, and created the power vacuum from which ISIS emerged.
While the United States’ sudden departure from Iraq is sometimes credited with the rise of ISIS and much of the Middle Eastern instability, the facts suggest a more complicated picture. American-backed protests and pushes for democratic reform in places like Iraq toppled the fragile balance of power across the region and forced widespread resignation from the weakest governments.
While republican democracy has been the United States’ tradition since the founding, it is a tradition the Middle Eastern nations only know as an adversarial and destabilizing force, entirely foreign to their tribal and religious traditions. Through a fairly consistent and well intentioned foreign policy, the U.S. wiped the Middle Eastern slate clean, removed evil men from power, and gave financial, military, and media support to democratic advocates. Yet a decade later, the people of Tunisia, the birthplace of the democratic movement in the Middle East and the only remaining Arab democracy, gladly returned to a dictatorial rule with popular support.
John Adams emphasized (and many founders echoed) the principle that the American Constitution required a virtuous and religious people, by which he meant Christian. Western attempts to replace the 19th century missionary zeal of Christ’s Kingdom with a more generic kingdom of democratically elected governments based on liberal standards of fair play and mutual respect for rights has failed across the Arab World, if only America can learn the lesson. Christian-shaped culture, not just democracy, may be the only foundation on which just constitutional government can rest.